Feb. 17, 2010

Cleaning up after the Dog

by Jason Tandon

Pull plastic bag from pocket
and wave it like a flag

or diploma. Make sure many people
congratulate your care
for the community.

Check bag for holes.
Double check.

Inspect stool for odd hues.
Greens, blues, blood.

Evaluate consistency.

You don't want to leave smears
on the sidewalk or grass—no prints.

Getaway must be clean.

Prepare to go in for all of it.
Hold breath.
Grab, clamp, reverse bag, twist, knot, cinch.

Smell hands.

Hold loaded bag high in the air,
assure onlookers that Everything is Okay.

If a cop should cruise by,
his crew cut bristling
in the sun,

hold that bag higher,
so he, too, can salute
your contribution.

The bomb diffused,
the world a little safer, a little cleaner,

will not offend the deep treads
of someone's shoes.

"Cleaning up after the Dog" by Jason Tandon, from Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt. © Black Lawrence Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Chaim Potok, (books by this author) born in the Bronx (1929). His parents were immigrants from Poland, and he grew up in a strict Orthodox Jewish culture. When he was about 14 years old, he happened to pick up a copy of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and it changed his life. He said, "I lived more deeply inside the world in that book than I lived inside my own world." And over the years, he read as much as he could, and he moved away from his parents' strict beliefs. But when he started to write fiction, he went back to his childhood, and he wrote The Chosen (1967), a best-selling novel about two boys growing up together in Brooklyn in the 1940s. One of the boys, Danny, is expected to become a Hasidic rabbi like his father, but he is more interested in Freud and psychology. The other, Reuven, is more integrated into mainstream society. Potok continued their story in The Promise (1969), and wrote about similar conflicts between religious and secular communities in many more novels, including My Name is Asher Lev (1972), The Book of Lights (1981), and a group of three related novellas, Old Men at Midnight (2001).

It was on this day in 1904 that Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly had its premiere at La Scala Theater in Milan, Italy. The audience hated it so much they hissed and booed. Puccini closed it after one night, revised it, and opened it later the same year. The second time around it was such a hit that there were five encores, and Puccini had to come out in front of the curtain 10 times.

It's the birthday of the man who said, "A good sermon should be like a woman's skirt: short enough to arouse interest but long enough to cover the essentials." That's writer and priest Ronald Knox, (books by this author) born in Kibworth, England (1888). He wrote and translated theological works, he gave regular BBC radio broadcasts, he wrote crime fiction, and he published satirical scholarship — his academic essays included a piece treating Sherlock Holmes as a historical figure, and another claiming that Queen Victoria wrote Tennyson's "In Memoriam."

It's the birthday of poet Jack Gilbert, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh in 1925. He flunked out of high school, worked as a door-to-door salesman and in the steel mill. A clerical error got him admitted to college, and he started writing poetry. He went to Europe and then back to San Francisco, where he hung out with the Beat poets. His first book of poems, Views of Jeopardy (1962), was a hit. It won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and he won a Guggenheim fellowship. He was all over magazines, and even had photo shoots in Vogue and Glamour. He was talented, he was handsome, and everyone expected great things.

And then, just as suddenly as he had appeared, he dropped out of the limelight, moving to Europe with the money from his fellowship. For 20 years, he lived abroad — in Greece with his first wife, the poet Linda Gregg, in England and Denmark, in Japan with his second wife. Finally, in 1982, he published Monolithos, which was made up of poems from his first book along with new poems. He has published just three other books: The Great Fires: Poems 1982–1992 (1996), Refusing Heaven (2005), and Transgressions: Selected Poems (2006).

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Andre Norton, (books by this author) born Alice Mary Norton in Cleveland, Ohio (1912). She wrote adventure stories in high school, and she wanted to be a history teacher. But she got her first book published when she was 20, and so she stuck with writing, and for years she wrote spy novels and adventure stories. She legally changed her name from Alice Mary to Andre in 1934 because she thought she could sell more copies as a man than a woman. Then she got asked to edit an anthology of science fiction writing, and she decided to try writing science fiction herself. Her book Star Man's Son (1951) was a success, so she turned her attention to that new genre, and she became a best-selling and beloved author. When she died in 2005 at the age of 93, she had written more than 100 novels. Many of her books were for young adults, and they were some of the first young adult science fiction novels to be embraced by adults as well.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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